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Posts Tagged ‘Bodhisattva’

There are hundreds of ways a person can begin to open to the spirit within them. In every religion there are prayers, and songs, and dances, and poems, and liturgies that have been created to help their followers find the divinity within them. We have been practicing out loud by chanting and singing, and creating music with percussion, string, and wind instruments or silently, through contemplation, meditation, zazen, introspection, lectio divina, dance, and more. Others have used sweat lodges, art, mind altering drugs, and ancient rituals. But all have been designed to help the individual find that mystical, untouchable, elusive thing within them called life.

Two extraordinary women have recently gifted me two things—one was a book, Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary by Kazuaki Tanahashi, and the other a journal article from Innovation Educativa which she is a co-author of entitled “The power of deep reading and mindful literacy: An innovative approach in contemporary education (Hall, O’Hare, Santavicca & Jones, 2015).” I have been moving between these pieces of writing with joy each presenting me with some fantastic ways to bring my practice into alignment with my life.

Thus I have decided to use these as a jumping off place for creating another workbook for the prison ministry in Florida of which I am one of their volunteers. The prison outreach ministry is sponsored by the Southern Palm Zen Group (Southern Palm Zen Group).

My first thought was what good I could get from the use of these techniques in my life, what I could discover about myself, and how I might even find my “true-self.” And then I read the paragraph below from Kaz’s book and discovered that what I really wanted to do was “understand” what he describes below and thus the workbook was born.

The “Four All-Embracing Vows” expresses the bodhisattva’s attitude. The first of the four vows—‘Beings are numberless; I vow to awaken them’—appears to be an overly idealistic and unrealistic promise. But if we look at it closely, we will notice that it doesn’t simply say, ‘I vow to awaken all sentient beings.’ It begins by acknowledging just how many living beings there are who need to be awakened. Thus, being kind to a neighbor, a stranger, or an animal can create rippling effects of kindness. A simple action may cause infinite results. If the ‘I’ who vows is separate from other people, what ‘I’ can achieve is quite limited. But if ‘I’ is not separate from all others throughout space and time, it may be possible to awaken all beings. This understanding is an essential ground for socially engaged Buddhism (Page 9).

My desire is to be a “socially engaged Buddhist.” My writing this workbook will help me discover new things about myself as I practice the techniques I am sharing, and hopefully, helping others do the same as they use the techniques in their own lives.

So let’s begin this adventure as Kaz did by reciting the four vows for a week as often as possible and wherever we can. Whether we’re sitting in meditation, contemplating the words, or writing them in our journal, whether we’re riding the train, or driving our cars, or making our beds–let’s chant. Chant aloud or silently as the environment allows. Let us not be separate from the words, the thoughts that follow, the sounds of the words, or the feelings and emotions that we feel as we chant. Let’s be one with everything. Let’s be accepting of what comes or does not come, no judgements or criticisms of ourselves, we’re simply chanting! The words are below as we chant them at the Southern Palm Zen Group. You are welcome to use them or use ones that you are familiar with.

The Four Vows
Creations are numberless, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.
Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.
The Enlightened Way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.

In gassho,

ingassho
Shokai

[1]Hall, M.P., O’Hare, A., Jones L.F., Santavicca, N. (2015) The power of deep reading and mindful literacy: An innovative approach in contemporary education. Innovacion Educative, ISSN: 1665-2673 vol. 15, numero 67

[2]Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala Publications Inc.: Boston, MA

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Once again I picked up the book Peace Pilgrim for words of wisdom and came across something that is so relevant today as we watch the killings and destruction of people of different faiths. Some people are even killing others who are the same faith only a different sect or denomination of that faith. Whether you believe in a religion, or a faith, or a spiritual teaching or a God or Supreme Being or not I hope the Peace Pilgrim’s words resonate with you and help you deal with your life and your challenges more easily today.

I am a deeply religious person, but I belong to no denomination. I follow the spirit of God’s law, not the letter of the law. One can become so attached to the outward symbols and structure of religion that one forgets its original intent—to bring one closer to God. We can only gain access to the Kingdom of God by realizing it dwells within us as well as in all humanity. Know that we are all cells in the ocean of infinity, each contributing to the others’ welfare (page 85)[1]

Roshi Robert Aitken in his wonderful book The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics writes this about oneness and war and peace.

Acting upon the First Precept [Not Killing] is also the spirit of not harming applied in the natural world. The same poisons that set us apart in families, communities, and across national boundaries—greed, hatred, and ignorance—blight the grasslands, deplete the soil, clear cut the forests, and add lethal chemicals to water and air. In the name of progress, some say. In the name of greed, it might more accurately be said (page 20).[2]

So if we let go of the outward symbols, laws, and structures and move toward the natural world or “God’s World” or the world of the Bodhisattva as Roshi Aitken says, “Compassion and peace are a practice, on cushions in the dojo, within the family, on the job, and at political forums. Do your best with what you have, and you will mature in the process.” You and I can be more like the Peace Pilgrim and the Buddha and be a part of “all cells in the ocean of infinity” contributing to the peace and welfare of everyone and everything.

If only we could feel and see ourselves afloat as an integral part of this infinite sea of creation we could not harm the cell that is in the other because we are that cell as well. Together we are that united one: separate we could not exist. Just imagine how our lives and the lives of those around us could be blessed if we lived each day in that “ocean of infinity.”

How about joining me for a swim!

In honor of our wonderful teachers I post these words:

Doshin and Jundo

Good Friends and good teachers of Zen: Jundo and Doshin

I feel within me a peace

Above all earthly dignities,

A still and quiet conscience.

–William Shakespeare

 

[1] Peace Pilgrim (2004), Peace Pilgrim, Editors Friends of Peace Pilgrim http://www.peacepilgrim.org

[2] Aitken, R. (2000) The Mind of Clover, Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press: NY, NY

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So what is the vow anyway?  There are various translations of the bodhisattva vow, sometimes called the four vows, the way we say it at our Southern Palm Zen Group sangha is below:

Creations are numberless, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.
Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.
The Enlightened Way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.

As you can tell by the words above in many life times we would not be able to free every being on the planet, nor would we be able to transform all of our daily delusions about life.  Plus knowing that reality is relative to the person, country, culture, and more makes it “unknowable” as well, and finally becoming enlightened is rare indeed.  Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has self-actualization at the top of the pyramid and it has probably only been attained by a few people ever on planet earth.  And I am not one of them!

Shohaku Okumura writes about the four vows in his book Living by Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts:

We are ordinary human beings and yet, if we take these four vows, we are bodhisattvas.  In reality, we are ordinary human beings with inexhaustible desires.  We have to study the teachings and practice endlessly, day by day, moment by moment, to attain the Buddha’s enlightenment.  This is our vow.  In making these four vows, we are bodhisattvas.

As we said, there is a contradiction inherent in these vows: we vow to do things that are impossible. . . .our practice and study are like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon, one spoonful at a time. (page 19).[1]

And yet we do it.  We take the vows, we practice as best we can and sometimes we compare our practice to others and get discouraged or get an overblown ego.  Neither is correct.  To be a bodhisattva is a journey with no end, but one that can bring great peace, compassion, and help to us, our families, friends, neighbors, community and ultimately the world.

Even if you are the winner of the National Spelling Bee there will be words to still discover, spell, and define, the number is limitless. And yet, the contestants still try and they keep on studying.  Such is living life by the 4 vows.  The journey is never ending, the path is never straight, the way is often up a rocky road and sometimes strolling on soft green grass. It can be filled with joys and sorrows, fun and laughter, pain and pleasure.  Regardless of the path we may travel, when we take the vows we do our best in this moment ONLY to live those vows.

I start each day by freeing myself from my delusions about myself and the world that I live in, then I open myself to the idea of reality being boundless and not limited by my past experiences and knowledge, and that walking the path of the bodhisattva is a path that could lead me to enlightenment and that is simply fun to imagine!—Even if I don’t attain it today.  I hope you’ll join me on this great adventure!

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day affirming the four vows.

2.  I will remind myself that living by them is done by being mindful and taking baby steps along the path throughout the day regardless of the current circumstances.

3.  I will remember that I am a bodhisattva even when I don’t feel like it or think I am acting like one.

4.  Lastly, I will keep a journal of the opportunities that have been presented to me so I can keep track of my progress and my opportunities for growth.


[1] Okumura, S. (2012) Living by vow: a practical introduction to eight essential Zen chants and texts. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

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At the end of Ronald and Mary Hulnick’s wonderful book Loyalty to Your Soul The Heart of Spiritual Psychology they write “. . . spiritual evolution slowly seeps into every crack and crevice of your life, and you slowly shift from saying the true answer to living the true answer (page 203).”  This adventure in living is a special opportunity to learn how to live a spiritual life instead of a material life.  It is for each of us in this New Year an opportunity to live a life of love, peace, joy, compassion, and forgiveness: Forgiving others and more importantly forgiving ourselves.

The Hulnick’s like to refer to an analogy of carrying a backpack filled with rocks on our backs every day.  These rocks are a symbol of our anger, hatred, fear, rules, rights/wrongs, must does, and self-recrimination that have built up throughout our lives.  Life is hard, just like the rocks we carry around, the rocks that are dragging us down in our jobs, relationships, health, and most importantly our ability to arise to a place of positive self-realization.

Many of us may have experiences such as Emperor Wu did when he mourned the passing of the venerable bodhisattva, Bodhidharma,  as described in Janet Jiryu Abels book, Making Zen Your Own Giving Life to Twelve Key Golden Age Ancestors (2012).

Alas, I saw him without seeing him.

I met him without meeting him.

I encountered him without encountering him.

Now, as before, I regret this deeply.

She asks us to ponder these questions:

  • Who do we see without seeing?
  • Who do we meet without meeting?
  • What do we encounter without encountering?
  • Do we regret this deeply?
  • And if we do, what are we going to do about it (page 20)?

These questions brought to mind an experience I had in Target as I was checking out one day.  I ran in for a few simple things and was so engrossed in my own thoughts and to-do list that I did not pay attention to the person who was checking me out until I saw this beautiful hand reach out to me to give me my change.  I realized I had made him “invisible.”  I had not looked at him, no less made eye contact with him.  Had I left the store before this thought came into my mind I would not have been able to tell you if the clerk was a man, woman, young, old, black, brown, or white.

So I took the opportunity to slow down, to look him in the eyes, smile, and thank him for his help and I wished him a good day.  Jiryu goes on to write at the end of this passage, “Where is Bodhidharma right now? Wake up! Bodhidharma is sitting on your cushion.”  He or she is serving you in the department stores, teaching your children; putting out your fires, answering your 911 calls, mowing your lawns, nursing your sick, or painting your house.  He or she is you and you are him or her.

I felt like I had dropped a great big rock from my backpack after that encounter.  I’d like to drop many more of them as I work my way through 2013.

This realization also helped me move in my life from just “saying the true answer to living the true answer.”  I hope that this means that each day I can actually see spiritual evolution slowly seeping into every crack and crevice of my life…that I can meet Bodhidharma on the cushion and in the grocery store.  Wish me luck!

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December 8th according to tradition in Zen Buddhism is the day celebrated when Shakyamuni Buddha was sitting in mediation under the Bodhi-tree and at the first glimpse of the morning star, attained enlightenment.  History says that when he looked up he cried out, “I and the great earth and beings simultaneously achieve the way.”  It’s probably true also that the day of Jesus’ birth, when he was slapped on his little butt, he too cried out. To the joy of his parent’s ears, I am sure!  He let them know he was alive and well and ready to live the mission for which he was born.

Whether we believe Jesus was actually born on December 25th or not December seems to be the month chosen to commemorate the birth/rebirth of these two great men or what we call in Zen Buddhism “Bodhisattvas of the world.”

One of the great teachers of Buddhism in America is Father Robert Kennedy, in his book Zen Gifts to Christians (2004), he writes these words about the Buddha’s enlightenment experience, “He exults in his realization that he and the great earth and the whole cosmos and everything in it simultaneously achieve enlightenment; he realizes that they all share the same reality.  It was this experience that launched Zen Buddhism as an international religion of wisdom and compassion (page 68).”

And for Christians we see Christ telling his followers, “I and the Father are one.”  (John 10:30) He says, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) He nor the Buddha championed war, killing, prejudice, hatred, ignoring suffering, and the like since if we are all one we are only hurting ourselves as we hurt others.  I cannot separate myself from you.  This has been proven by those who are coming back from our wars with the increased incidence of PTSD and suicide.

Christ’s life was about teaching compassion for those who were suffering, in pain, in need, and in want.   The Buddha and the Christ both said that there will always be suffering in the world.  Why should our behavior contribute to that suffering?  Let our behavior help minimize the suffering and recognize the divinity in everyone and everything.  Father Kennedy goes on to write, “. . . when we touch our neighbor, we do not only touch a friend of Christ’s, we touch Christ himself. When we touch Christ, we touch the one who sent him (page 71).

It is so in Buddhism.  When we touch the lonely, the poor, the suffering, and those in need we touch the Buddha.  What difference is there between the two: culture, geography, and calendar years.  The rest was added on by man and the writers of history books.  But what really matters is their lives and the way they lived them.  Their deeds and the way they performed them.  Their wisdom and the way they shared it with anyone who would listen.

At this time when Zen Buddhists celebrate Rohatsu and Christians celebrate Christmas we should put aside our man made differences and begin to understand what Jesus and Shakyamuni Buddha understood that we are all “one” with God, with mind, with others, with everything.  Let us break the bonds of separation and “other than ness.” Father Kennedy reports the story of the Asian Catholic bishops visit to Thailand in January of 2000 to evangelize Asia.  “…because they felt they should be sensitive to the enduring Buddhist spirituality of Asia and since they were aware that the Buddhists saw Christ and the Bodhisattva as one, the bishops offered an alternative way to evangelize Asia.  They claimed that although they did not deny the uniqueness of Christ, they believed they should not present Christ as simply unique.  They proposed to portray both Christ and the church in a way that resembled the Bodhisattva: That is humble companions and partners of Asians in their common quest for the truth (page 77).”

Both the Buddha and Jesus awoke to the knowledge that all is one.  So on these two very special days of the year let us continue the quest for peace, love, and compassion every day of every week of every year.

Namaste: I behold the Christ/Buddha in you.

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